04 May 2013

Malice Domestic

by Elizabeth Zelvin

As you read this, I’m in the thick of the lovefest for readers of traditional mystery that’s known as Malice Domestic. It takes place in Bethesda, MD, and this year it’s celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary. This is my eighth Malice, and as I write this, I think I can safely predict that I’ll be having a wonderful time.

Malice bills itself as “an annual ‘fun fan’ convention saluting the traditional mystery—books best typified by the works of Agatha Christie. The genre is loosely defined as mysteries which contain no explicit sex or excessive gore or violence.” While cozies are unquestionably queen at Malice, traditional mysteries with more grit, depth, or darkness than true cozies allow are also appreciated.

Liz with Carolyn Hart, Hank Phillippi Ryan, & Kaye George
Liz with Louise Penny, Meredith Cole, & Stefanie Pintoff
Winners of the Agatha Awards, nominated by Malice registrants and elected by attendees, have included Margaret Maron, Louise Penny, Nancy Pickard, Katherine Hall Page, Jacqueline Winspear, Carolyn Hart, Rhys Bowen, Donna Andrews, Earlene Fowler, Laura Lippman, Kate Ross, Sharyn McCrumb, and Elizabeth Peters.

Malice Guests of Honor have included Patricia Moyes, Charlotte MacLeod, Aaron Elkins, Anne Perry, Dorothy Salisbury Davis, Ellis Peters, Peter Lovesey, Robert Barnard, Mary Higgins Clark, Simon Brett, Edward Marston, Barbara D’Amato, Dorothy Cannell, Joan Hess, Rochelle Krich, Charlaine Harris, Lindsey Davis, Parnell Hall, Carole Nelson Douglas, and Jan Burke. This year’s honorees are Laurie R. King and Peter Robinson.

My Malice-Go-Round buddy Deb Sharp
wore an over-the-top wedding veil.

This year marks the first time since 2008 that I haven’t participated in Malice-Go-Round, a speed dating event for readers and authors of new work that sets the tone for a weekend of cameraderie between authors and fans. (Silver lining: since I didn’t have to get to Bethesda by early Friday morning, I was able to attend the annual Edgars Week party hosted by Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine and meet some of my SleuthSayers blogmates face to face for the first time.)

On panel with Dan Stashower, Penny Warner,
Jack French, & Nan Higginson
Panels and signings take up much of the weekend, along with interviews of the honorees. These include recipients of the Lifetime Achievement Award, which among those not previously mentioned have included Mary Stewart, Emma Lathen, Dick Francis, Tony Hillerman, H.R.F. Keating, and Sue Grafton. (Seen anybody you read yet? I bet you have!)

I won’t be sleeping in on either Saturday and Sunday, because the two don’t-miss breakfast events start early. One is a New Authors breakfast at which every first-time novelist present gets a five-minute interview. There’s no better mystery con than Malice for a writer making her (or his) publication debut. The other is Sisters in Crime’s semi-annual breakfast meeting. (The other takes place at Bouchercon.)

The crowning event of the weekend is the Agatha Awards banquet. It’s always fun, whether or not I’m nominated (three times for Best Short Story) and whether or not I’m asked to host a table (this year is my third time). I was sitting at Nancy Pickard’s table when she won her third Best Novel Agatha for the superb The Scent of Rain and Lightning, an exciting moment with much whooping and screaming.

With fellow nominees Dana Cameron,
Barb Goffman, & Sheila Connolly
As at the Edgars, everybody dresses to kill, and fancy hats can still be seen, though the tradition is fading. In fact, until a few years ago, the closing tea party on Sunday (little sandwiches and pastries galore) included a hat contest. I won the last one myself in 2008 with a fetching confection that included a bobble-headed Edgar Allan Poe, a bloodstained tombstone, a hanging bat, and a blood red rose.
The winning cha-Poe

My personal high point, however, was the time a reader approached me in the Ladies and asked me to sign a copy of my book. She was very apologetic, explaining that she’d been looking for me all over and had a train to catch. But I was thrilled. That’s what I’d call, to use a friend’s phrase, a “made-it moment,” as well as a quintessential Malice moment.


  1. I do like that winning cha-Poe!

  2. Wow, what a hat! And what an event!

  3. Good for you, Liz--sounds like fun. Wish I could be there!


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